Sociology and social work departments raise awareness about homelessness in U.S.


November weather is settling in and students are starting to bundle up as they shuffle their way to class. At the end of the day, students have their warm rooms to go back to and sometimes they might forget what a luxury that really is.

To raise awareness for the homeless population, the sociology department at Shippensburg University hosted “A Night Without a Home” on Nov. 5 with the support of the social work department.

Brittani Procknow, a social work major, put the event together for a group project in Marita Flagler’s class. Flagler is a professor of social work at SU.

Procknow contacted organizations, chose the venue, asked for food donations from dining services and contacted guest speakers. The Social Work Organization provided money for the event.
“We hoped to raise funds for Safe Harbour and create an educational event that would provide awareness as to what being homeless is like,” Procknow said.

Many social work majors came to the event from 7 to 11:30 p.m. in the Ceddia Union Building multi-purpose room to ask the guest speakers about helping the homeless.

Scott Shewell from Safe Harbour Inc. came to speak about the homeless population in Cumberland County.

Safe Harbour is a homeless shelter in Carlisle, Pa. that provides emergency shelter for homeless women, couples and families for up to 90 days. At the next stage, homeless people can move into the decentralized Bridge Housing program where they can stay for 12 to 18 months. The goal of Safe Harbour is to help the homeless get back on their feet so they can live independently in society.

Photo by Mary Grace Keller / The Slate
Photo by Mary Grace Keller / The Slate
Photo by Mary Grace Keller / The Slate

Once a homeless person passes the background check and proves he or she has no warrants pending, Safe Harbour volunteers take him or her on a tour and welcome him or her into a home.

Approximately 80 residents are currently in Safe Harbour housing and about 25 of them are children. Safe Harbour works with charities in Cumberland County to make sure the needs of the homeless are met and that children can receive tutoring.

Ruben Botello, a resident of Shippensburg, Pa., came to SU to speak about the times in his life when he was homeless. Botello explained how homelessness could happen to anyone, even when he or she feels on top of the world.

When Botello’s sons were 2 and 5 years old, his wife ran off with her boss and left the family. Botello had been in the process of getting his license in law when this happened. He ended up on the street with his sons.

“The churches kept us alive, basically. They had the heart to care,” Botello said.
Even though Botello has three college degrees, he struggled to find a job because of his ragged appearance.

A Texas native, Botello experienced homelessness for the first time when he ran away from home as a teenager. After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps and fighting in the Vietnam War, Botello became homeless again after he moved to California.

Botello has been homeless five times in his life but he has refused to allow the low moments to define his character. Instead of giving up, Botello went on to form the American Homeless Society, in which he has participated in many protests and advocated for the rights of homeless Americans.

“As long as I’m fighting, they know there’s hope,” Botello said of the homeless people he fights for through his organization.

In the time that Botello was homeless with his children, he mentioned the fear and distaste he felt toward social workers. An audience member asked Botello how the social work majors at SU could learn to be more helpful to the homeless.

“Just keep your heart wide open,” Botello replied.

SU graduate students Bridgid Miller and Amy Gulino from Carlisle CARES, another local homeless shelter, talked about the work they do to keep the organization running.

In Carlisle CARES, different churches serve as shelters in a rotation and allow homeless people to sleep inside for the night.

In the past year, Carlisle CARES has served more than 400 people in the community. The organization works closely with other shelters like Safe Harbour to extend their outreach efforts.

Originally, the sociology and social work departments planned to have SU students sleep outside in the academic quad so they could experience what it is like to be homeless. Because of a lack of interest in sleeping outside, they decided to cancel the sleep out.

Safe Harbour will sponsor a sleep out on Nov. 23 at Dickinson College. “A Night Without a Home” is an annual event that Dickinson College hosts.

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